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Organise your Writing: How to Structure a Scientific Paper

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Scientist's Style

The problem with writing is that there's not much money in it. - Cheryl Tiegs [Cohen and Cohen 1992:367]

That is not true for all, but true for many. Writing problems abound, and guidance that is had, may limit your expressivity. Yet, write something, and add, and tidy it up. That is one way. There are others.

And a paper is to provide a good range of answers and more to these: "Who, what, where, how, when and why - the six interrogative pronouns.

To enlarge on the subject, addressing the salient points of the "Air-Boc" acronym well might help you check if you have covered "surrounding terrain" as might be fit.

Also, if you address "Who is likely to benefit, and where does the funding go?" a need to be extremely diplomatic may be uncovered - since researchers may benefit from being parts of some "research enterprise", seek to get money to fund it. The ending "More research is needed to answer that" in scientific theses and papers is in a way attuned to that. And not to be overlooked, those who really benefit from your paper or efforts, may perhaps not like to be found out and exposed. So research tends to "look downwards" more than investigate upwards to where the benefits accrue. It is not always so, but one is to take care anyway, and studied modificatons may be a great help. There is a need to fit in, get accepted, so many a stride is of the conform kind. A need to be diplomatic is also there. OK?

But now to fair and square, convenient or basic research: Providing guidelines for solving problems of style, F. P. Woodford [O'Connor and Woodford 1978:44] suggests these principles:

  • Be simple and concise.
  • Make sure of the meaning of every word.
  • Use verbs instead of abstract nouns.
  • Break up noun clusters and stacked modifiers (that is, strings of adjectives and nouns, with no clues as to what modifies what).

Keep everything straightforward and readers will be grateful. [O'Connor and Woodford 1978:44]

"Do not . . . studiously avoid repeating a word in a sentence. Good English stylists prefer repetition to "elegant variation" . . . because the real menaing can easily be distorted by a badly chosen synonym." [O'Connor and Woodford 1978:44]

If you write short, simple sentences you can avoid most pitfalls.

Punctuate according to the rules of English usage you are aware of.

You should make your meaning unambiguous unless you aim for something else specifically.

Get help from friends. They may assist you in clarifying meanings eventually.

[All based on sensible counsel in O'Connor and Woodford (1978:44-45).

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Steps of a Paper Writer

Some of these steps may suit you:

  1. Assess your work: decide what, when, and where to publish. Define your purpose in writing and form a working title if you can
  2. Be in line with the style manual that fits in or is accepted. Learn the Instructions to Authors of the journal chosen
  3. Draft an abstract
  4. Decide on the basic form of the paper (adjust well).
  5. Collect the material under the major headings chosen
  6. Design tables, including their titles and footnotes; design or select illustrations and write titles and legends for them
  7. (Write for permission to reproduce any previously published tables, illustrations or other material that will be used)
  8. Write a topic outline and perhaps a sentence outline
  9. Write, type or dictate a preliminary draft of the text rather quickly, to give it unity
  10. Check completeness of the references assembled
  11. Put the manuscript or typescript away for a few days
  12. Re-examine the structure of the paper
  13. Check the illustrations and tables and make the final versions Re-read the references you cite and check your own accuracy in citing them; check for consistency, and reduce the number of abbreviations and footnotes
  14. (Re)type the paper (= first draft)
  15. Correct the grammar and polish the style
  16. Type several copies of the corrected paper (= second draft)
  17. Ask for criticism from co-authors and friends. Make as many adjustments and alterations as called for and needed
  18. Compose a new title and abstract suitable for information retrieval, list the possible index terms and assemble the manuscript
  19. Compile the reference list, cross-check references against the text, and ensure that all bibliographical details are correct
  20. Retype (= penultimate version) and check typescript
  21. Obtain a final critical review from a senior colleague
  22. Make any final corrections (final version)
  23. Write a covering letter to the editor, enclosing copies of letters giving you permission to reproduce any previously published material or to cite unpublished work
  24. Check that all parts of the paper are present, and post as many copies as specified to the editor
  25. If the editor returns the paper, revise it as necessary, send it elsewhere, or abandon it (for a time).
  26. Correct the proofs

[O'Connor and Woodford 1978:80-81]

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Structure a paper, organise writing, END MATTER

Structure a paper, organise writing, LITERATURE  

Papers are written on many levels and to many purposes. Interestingly, plain English helps clear thinking, so below there are some books on that too. [More tips]. The books marked with a star might perhaps be specially rewarding to students. - TK

Babbie, Earl R. The Practice of Social Research. 13th ed. London: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2012.

Barrass, Robert. Scientists Must Write: A Guide to Better Writing for Scientists, Engineers and Students. 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 2002.

Cohen, J. M., and M. J. Cohen. The New Penguin Dictionary of Quotations. Rev. ed. London: Viking, 1992.

Cutts, Martin. Oxford Guide to Plain English. 4th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

Field, Marion. lmprove your Punctuation and Grammar. Rev 3rd ed. Begbroke: How To Books, 2009.

Gowers, Sir Ernest. The Complete Plain Words. 3rd ed. Rev. Sidney Greenbaum and Janet Whitcut. London: Penguin, 1987.

Hellevik, Ottar. Forskningsmetode i sosiologi og statsvitenskap. 7th ed., 4. oppl. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 2009.

Kerlinger, Fred, and Howard B. Lee. Foundations of Behavioral Research. 4. utg. London: Thomson Learning, 2000.

King, Graham. Improve Your Punctuation. Glasgow: HarperCollins, 2009.

King, Graham. Collins Improve Your Writing Skills. Glasgow: HarperCollins, 2009.

O'Connor, M., and F. Woodford. Writing Scientific Papers in English. London: Pitman Medical, 1978.

Schench, Mary Jane. Read, Write, Revise: A Guide to Academic Writing. New York: St Martin's Press, 1988.

*Swetnam, Derek, and Ruth Swetnam. Writing Your Dissertation: The Bestselling Guide to Planning, Preparing and Presenting First-Class Work. 3rd rev ed. Begbroke, Oxford: How To Books, 2009.

*Trask, Robert Lawrence. English Grammar. London: Penguin Books 2000.

*Trask, Robert Lawrence. Punctuation. London: Penguin Books 1997.

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